Until this summer, T.T. Flynn was unknown to me. But after reading James Reasoner’s review of The Man from Nowhere, Flynn went to the top of my list of authors to read.
In 2002, Leisure Books published a paperback collection of three short western novels by Flynn – Gallows Breed, Old Hellcat, The Devil’s Lode – and called the book The Devil’s Lode. By chance, I found a used copy of it and dug in. The character of Shack Anderson in Old Hellcat grabbed me from the first paragraph and that is where I started.
Shack is an irascible, funny old cuss at the opening of the story. He does not like being old and he does not like being retired, although retirement was his own doing when he decided to give the cattle ranch he built up over decades to his daughter and her mild-mannered husband to run. The introduction to Shack, sizing himself up and talking to himself in a hotel room in town, comes to an end quickly when a woman he has known since his days as a hell-raising young cowboy and her days as a young dance-hall girl arrives with news. She tells Shack that trouble is brewing for his daughter and son-in-law.
A no-good, land-grabbing, cattle-rustling neighbor of Shack’s is trying to muscle his family off their land. On hearing this, Shack, the grumpy old goat, straps on his guns and, feeling young again, heads out to handle things himself.
The plot of Old Hellcat sounds pretty standard when summarized, but what makes this novel go is Flynn’s skill as a storyteller. The man was a master at launching a story quickly, painting brief but vivid word pictures of characters and situations, and handling action.
Flynn (1902–1979) wrote short stories and short novels for the western magazines in the 1930s and 1940s. Old Hellcat, which today would be considered a novella, was first published in the March 7, 1936 edition of Argosy.
Since buying this book, I found a copy of Flynn's 1954 novel, The Man from Laramie, so I will be reading more Flynn stories soon.
Anyone interested in reading or writing action stories should get to know the work of T.T. Flynn.
(For more forgotten books, check out Patti Abbott’s blog.)